21 March 2012

Papuan activists jailed for treason

Indonesia has jailed dozens of Papuans for raising this outlawed separatist flag, according to Human Rights Watch
Indonesia has jailed dozens of Papuans for raising this outlawed separatist flag, according to Human Rights Watch
Five men were sentenced to three years in jail in the Papua region for raising an outlawed separatist flag and declaring the region's independence, report Human Rights Watch and Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF).

The men had led a peaceful pro-independence celebration attended by 1,000 Papuans on 19 October in Jayapura.

"All five defendants are found guilty of committing treason as stated in the criminal code. All aspects have been proven legally and convincingly," Judge Jack L. Oktovianus told the Jayapura district court, according to news reports. "We sentence them all to three years in prison."

Among the "Jayapura Five" were Forkorus Yaboisembut, president of the Papuans' self-proclaimed state, and Selpius Bobii, a social media activist.

According to Human Rights Watch, security forces shot into the crowd and beat demonstrators with batons after the men declared independence and raised the Papuan flag. At least three people were killed and more than 90 injured during the rally.

Seventeen police officers, including the Jayapura police chief, were given written warnings for not prioritising the protection of civilians, but no action was taken for possible misuse of force, says Human Rights Watch.

PFF and Human Rights Watch denounced the court decision, saying it violates international laws and the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees freedom to protest.

Human Rights Watch also said the trial raised serious due process concerns, such as three of the men being beaten by police while in custody.

"Throwing activists in prison on charges of treason will just reinforce Papuans' beliefs that the Indonesian government uses the law for political purposes," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "And while the government is busy prosecuting peaceful protesters, it seems to have had no time to investigate adequately the violence against them."

The IFEX members called for the government to release all political prisoners and allow rights organisations and foreign journalists unimpeded access to the region, which is tightly-controlled by Jakarta.

According to news reports, Papuans have long accused Indonesia's military of violating human rights in the region and complain that the bulk of earnings from its natural resources flow to Jakarta.

In 1969, Indonesia took control of Papua, a former Dutch colony on the western half of New Guinea island, after a vote among a select group of Papuans widely seen as a sham.

Indonesia has imprisoned more than 100 activists from the Moluccas Islands and Papua for peacefully voicing political views, holding demonstrations and raising separatist flags, according to Human Rights Watch.

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